Hofstra University is abuzz with debate fever and awash in media this weekend. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their fans and committed voters, conventional thinking says the vote may hinge on their performances in THIS debate. And with the first of three presidential debates happening on the campus Monday, September 26, the grounds are swarming with reporters, producers, technicians, cameras, equipment, photographers, Secret Service and other law enforcement officers, plus thousands of miles of cable.
Dozens of temporary stages are being built with plywood and two-by-fours, ready to be dressed for their close-ups. All of this is in preparation for a 90-minute showdown between the two most disliked candidates in modern history, according to polls. Hundreds of Hofstra employees and students are being deployed to assist in the effort, working alongside the aforementioned media and support to make history happen on Monday. Estimated costs totaling four to five million dollars makes one wonder and debate: “Is it all worth it?”
One could argue that the time, expense and overall drain on campus resources suggest the answer is “no.” A minor but annoying controversy created by third party candidate Gary Johnson’s supporters on Facebook–calling for Hofstra not to host the debate because Johnson was not included, was unwelcome. The temporary inconvenience of shrinking numbers of parking spaces, loss of some athletic facilities, cancellation of Monday classes, and closed roads are also negatives.
I say of course it’s worth it. Most if not all of the expenses are being covered by huge donations from two Hofstra alums. If you were to estimate the value of the publicity Hofstra will receive based on what advertising would cost for an equivalent number of mentions, views, and on-camera presence both nationally and internationally, it would reach hundreds of millions of dollars. The prestige this event brings to Hofstra is immeasurable, and the opportunities this brings to our students–to work alongside New York media pros, to be involved with political discourse and discussion, and to be a part of history–is an incomparable life experience.
So, debate the debate’s value to Hofstra. Your thoughts?
Let’s review the story: 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought a home-made clock to his high school in Texas. He was proud of his accomplishment and showed it to his teachers over the course of the day. Ahmed’s English class teacher saw the clock as well, but suspected it may be a bomb because of its appearance. She contacted the school authorities who then called police. The teenager, who happens to be Muslim, was arrested, handcuffed and put in a jail cell. He was released a few hours later and no charges were filed after the police confirmed the device was, indeed, a clock and not a bomb.
The outpouring of support for Ahmed was nationwide and viral. Many called the arrest an overreaction and blamed racial profiling and anti-Muslimism. On the other hand, some–including noted liberal and political comedian Bill Maher–volleyed back. On his live HBO show Friday night, Maher suggested people “drop the political correctness and consider that maybe being cautious is a good thing.” He said there’s nothing wrong with being a little suspicious when there’s a young Muslim student with something that “looks exactly like a (expletive) bomb” and there are young Muslims “blowing (expletive) up” all over the world.
Meanwhile, Ahmed has since been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Hashtags #IStandWithAhmed and #EngineersForAhmed saw hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets. Ahmad was offered internships at Reddit and Twitter. Google reserved a place for him at its science fair. MIT asked him to come to campus. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted, “Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed.” And President Obama praised Ahmed’s love of science while inviting him to the White House.
How one sees this case comes from personal attitudes. I believe what’s still missing are apologies from the school and police. Even Bill Maher added that apologies would be appropriate. There’s no embarrassment in making a mistake on the side of caution and a sincere “we’re sorry, we were mistaken” would be good for public relations. Your thoughts?
It was fun being back on the air!
At the invitation of Ron Gold, president of Marketing Works and host of LI News Radio’s weekly program, “The Nonprofit Voice,” I sat in the interviewer’s chair this past Saturday. I’ve studied nonprofits for the past several years, having conducted three surveys which confirmed that nonprofit organizations have few resources to handle public relations activities.
The show’s first guest, Glenn Vickers II, executive director of the East Hampton YMCA, noted that while his facility’s communication efforts are supported by the larger YMCA infrastructure, he’s enlisted volunteers, members and supporters to “talk” about his Y on social media. Given his organization’s location, its mix of seasonal and year-round clientele, and its diverse membership, traditional media and advertising don’t provide the targeted outreach the East Hampton YMCA can achieve through the Internet. Vickers believes it’s word-of-mouth and individual testimonials which bring the most credibility and connection to the programs the Y offers.
This point was shared by my second guest, founder and director of the Museum of Public Relations, Shelley Zuckerman Spector. Until her collection of PR memorabilia, media artifacts, video, literature, and research found a home at the Baruch College library in Manhattan, the museum was virtual. Spector uses the museum’s website as a repository for historical information, and takes to social media for publicity and PR. And with the public relations industry experiencing unprecedented growth worldwide, outreach has become international, with more than half of the museum’s Facebook followers coming from outside the United States. On Twitter, tweets are sent in English, French, Spanish, and German, written by interns who speak the languages. With no real resources for a larger communications effort, social media is a godsend to the museum because of its low cost and relative ease of use.
Through the Internet, nonprofits become their own media and can creatively use its platforms for self-promotion. Now, only the Museum of Public Relations and PR veterans like me can answer the question, “How did nonprofits ‘do’ PR before the Internet?” Your thoughts?
Social media has often been compared to a cocktail party. As people move through the room they listen and participate in brief conversations, and soon find another discussion they like. But while cocktail party comments usually come and go in seconds, social media discussions never go away. Even after a comment is deleted it’s still searchable and becomes part of the Internet’s permanent memory. A single “brain fart” posted on Facebook or Twitter can cause a public firestorm–or end one’s career.
Such was the case when Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for a Tennessee congressman, criticized the Obama daughters for their bored behavior during the annual turkey pardoning event at the White House. The Facebook post ended up costing her job.
Lauten wrote: “Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class…Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless…act like being in the White House matters…Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”
After thousands online accused her of bullying the First Daughters, Lauten apologized on Facebook, posting: “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were…”
Presidents’ children have historically been off-limits to public criticism, although there have been similar past incidents where such boundaries were violated. However, Lauten’s politically-driven Facebook eruption forced her resignation days later.
The lesson: Think twice before you hit “send.” Too often we’ve seen tweets and posts from politicians, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders that have resulted in PR disasters. Not every thought one has should be so quickly expressed online in our immediate media. Your thoughts?
My friend and PR mentor Bert Cunningham frequently suggests topics for Public Relations Nation. As I’ve done before, I asked Bert to be a guest columnist this week. I’m very happy he’s again providing us with his wise observations.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to one of Professor Morosoff’s PR classes. One of the challenges, and opportunities, discussed was that PR pros need to know how to use Big Data.
A recent New York Times article entitled “How Facebook is Changing the Way its Consumers Use Journalism” underscored the issue. The article described how Facebook’s use of algorithms to drive news to its users is “changing the way its users consume journalism.” In turn, Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feeds impact how news content providers structure their respective print, Internet and digital products, and how advertisers advertise and on what platforms.
It’s still a “bold new world” for traditional news media seeking to survive as the impact of social media and digital apps drive more of the news delivery process. What struck me was how this changes the PR pro’s role.
A cornerstone of PR is media relations. The basic tenet of media relations is to build relationships with reporters, editors and assignment desks. How will Big Data news algorithms change that equation? How does a PR pro build a relationship with an algorithm? I can imagine a Big Data-influenced call to a reporter going something like this: “Hi, Bill. It’s Bert. I have an interesting story for the XYZ non-profit’s annual fundraiser that’s truly unique.” “Really, Bert, sounds interesting. Let me see how non-profit fundraising stories are trending on Facebook’s algorithm…Sorry, way down. Call back when the algorithm is up.”
Extreme? Perhaps. But, here’s the point: The human factor is being taking out of the news business, because of the need to survive. News outlets always had to survive, but there was a wall between the news content side and the advertising side. Those lines are blurring more and more because of social media-driven news feeds. When the human factor goes out of the news business so will the ability of PR pros to build meaningful media relationships.
So what do future PR pros do? How will they cope with Big Data and news feed algorithms? Your thoughts?
A new academic year is about to begin and I can’t wait. Across the country approximately 21 million students will be enrolled in college, more than ever before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Most members of the freshmen class will have been born in or around 1996, about 37 years after me.
These numbers represent a challenge for educators my age, especially when teaching a subject as ever-evolving as public relations. Many of us can remember when press releases were created on typewriters and mailed in envelopes using stamps we had to lick. Since those primitive tools, we’ve witnessed astounding changes, and as professionals we’ve had to keep our skills sharp and up-to-date. We former PR pros must stay ahead of the curve to teach the latest trends, techniques and tools with future public relations practitioners.
Even during the four years I’ve been teaching full-time at Hofstra University, change has come fast and furious. For example, college students now favor using Twitter and Instagram over Facebook. Online video is rapidly becoming the most effective way to move people to action, and YouTube is now the second most-used search engine, behind Google. These changes in how people are using social media have profoundly impacted the way PR people do their jobs. We don’t just pitch stories, promote clients and diffuse crises; we have to be content providers — creating words, pictures and video for online platforms and web sites in an ongoing planned effort to gain attention and inspire positive attitudes and responses. To do this, we need to be more than good writers and pitch-persons; we must manage and master the current multi-media desktop and mobile tools, and use them to tell our stories very effectively.
For the new PR students who may think the profession is about red carpet events and flashy media moments, it’s more often not. Most of what we do is to use traditional and new media tools create content to initiate, persuade and change opinions. I’m excited about what’s next…are you? Your thoughts?
This week my summer Public Relations Fundamentals students learned how to write a press release. While there’s been much discussion in the profession about whether the press release is dead, I agree with many who believe that while we’re not printing them on paper and stuffing them into envelopes anymore, there’s a place for the online release. This isn’t nostalgia talking; most of my academic and professional colleagues say it’s not yet time to abandon the press release.
It was, however, a particularly nostalgic week for me, partially because a Facebook page was created by old friends to celebrate our time together at college radio station WNYT. A flood of photos and articles are being posted, and memories of record albums and cart machines and reel-to-reel tape recorders abound. Coincidentally, I visited a friend this week who still works at my alma mater; he showed me WNYT, so my nostalgia meter has been running higher than usual.
To add to these events, I’ve started to think about what to do with hundreds of record albums, CDs and VHS tapes which are taking up significant space in our apartment. I’ve already tossed most of the VHS tapes but am having trouble parting with the rest of the collection. I also have a few antique radios on display which look nice but are dust collectors and space taker-uppers.
All this amplifies my belief that while there’s nothing wrong with memories and nostalgia, we must always keep moving with the changes technology imposes. This is especially true in our classrooms where, on my campus and at my alma mater, we’re preparing hundreds of students each year to be professional communicators. The reel-to-reel machines have been replaced by PCs loaded with Audition and other platforms; old Steenbeck flatbed film editors are now Avid editing suites, and press kits are uploaded to web sites and blogs.
I’m awed by the changes we’re seeing in communication and I’m excited to embrace all that’s new. The past is fun to see, but only in the rear view mirror. Your thoughts?
I’m a stickler for writing right, partially because employers demand it. It’s a point made in an article written in 2012 by iFixit CEO Kyle Weins, titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” Weins gives a mandatory grammar test to every applicant. “On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair,” he wrote. “After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?” He goes on to say, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts. I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on resumes. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”
I rather enjoyed Matthew Schwartz’s column in PR News last week titled, “What Makes a Great PR Employee: Let Us Count the Ways.” Schwartz solicited responses to that question via PR News’ Facebook and Twitter and the feedback was interesting, revealing, and accurate. Here are some of the Twitter responses:
A great employee…
- Always shows passion.
- Is an opportunist, and goes above and beyond expectations.
- Is calm, cool, and collected.
- Understands their role in the success of their employer.
- Is open to criticism.
- Is willing to see an issue from other viewpoints.
- Is always proactive, considers his customer’s problem as his own problem, (and) always reacts before the crisis shows up.
- Always puts the needs of their clients above their own.
- Always provide best, honest advice to clients.
- Goes for it and sticks with it and challenges the conventional.
So, after reading this, what would you add to the list? What other characteristics make a great PR employee? Which do you possess–or need? Your thoughts?